For advertisers on Google, Quality Score is nothing new. But, is your Quality Score optimization strategy keeping up with the evolution of Google Ads in 2023? In this article, I’ll provide up-to-date guidance on improving your Quality Score, as well as a helpful lens through which to think about Quality Score overall.
What is Google Quality Score?
Google Quality Score is a measurement of the overall quality of an ad and landing page. It is calculated on a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being the highest).
Quality Score is central to the credibility and success of Google Ads. Why?
When it was introduced in 2002, Quality Score meant that the top SERP position didn’t just go to the advertiser with the highest bid. Instead, ad rank was now determined by both bid and relevance. This shift was a key differentiator for Google at the time.
Think about it. Google earns (a lot of) revenue from searchers clicking on ad results. Every time someone clicks an ad, that’s money in Google’s pocket. To drive those clicks, searchers need to be able to trust that the ads they see are relevant to their search. If the ads were full of spam or irrelevant results, searchers would quickly adapt and learn to not click on those ads. By prioritizing quality, Google maintains user trust and loyalty, which in turn benefits the entire Google ecosystem, including Google Ads. Google uses Quality Score to ensure that users are presented with high-quality and relevant ads that provide a positive user experience.
On the flip side, advertisers want to spend their marketing dollars on a search engine that their target audience trusts (and where they are likely to click on ads) and where they know they’ll be connected to the right audience. Quality Score not only builds trust for the searcher, but it also creates good results for its advertisers too. Quality Score also has a direct impact on an advertiser’s cost per click (CPC). By rewarding more relevant ads with higher Quality Scores, Google incentivizes advertisers to focus on relevancy and the user experience.
Google is highly incentivized to make sure both sides (advertisers and searchers) are confident in the results. Once you understand Quality Score through this lens, you’ll start to see QS not as a burden to optimize, but as a way to find opportunities to improve the user experience and your results.
How is Quality Score Calculated?
Google looks at historical performance across 3 components to determine Quality Score:
Expected click-through rate (CTR): This is an estimate of how likely it is that someone will click on an ad.
Ad relevance: This measures how closely the ad matches the user’s search intent, taking into account the search term and the ad’s headline, description, and other assets.
Landing page experience: This measures how relevant the landing page is that the ad leads to, taking into account factors such as load time, mobile-friendliness, and the relevance of the landing page content to the user’s search intent.
For each keyword, these 3 components receive a rating of Below Average, Average, and Above Average. Cumulatively, those ratings result in a 1-10 Quality Score for each keyword. Think of the overall score as a metric to find keywords that need improvement, and the individual component ratings a guide to what exactly to improve.
How Does Quality Score Affect CPC?
Quality Score itself is not a metric used by Google Ads to determine your CPC; rather, it’s a diagnostic tool that Google Ads provides advertisers to understand where opportunities for better ad quality exist. That said, ad quality is a huge factor in determining how much you pay for each click on your ads, or your CPC. Each time a search is conducted, an auction occurs in which Google evaluates each advertisers bid x ad quality, and ranks the advertisers for that search result. This is called ad rank.
Quality Score ensures that both advertisers and users stay happy with the results they get. When you run ads on Google, you can’t simply buy your way to the top of the search results. Ad rank is Google’s formula for determining the order of ads on the search results. It’s determined each and every time someone searches and the auction runs. Rather than allowing advertisers to simply have the highest bid and therefore get the highest position in the search results, Google combines the advertiser’s bid with their ad quality to determine their ad rank. Yes, you do need to bid competitively as an advertiser, but that alone won’t lead to success.
What is a Good Quality Score?
Most paid search advertisers would agree that an 8-10 Quality Score is great. For branded keywords, you should easily be able to achieve a 10 Quality Score.
The lowest hanging fruit for Quality Score improvement are keywords with a QS below 5. That’s where you’ll see the most opportunity for improvement, and where you’ll see the biggest payoff for your cost per click. After optimizing for your below 5 keywords, then move on to any keywords with a Quality Score between 5 and 7.
How to See Quality Score in Google Ads
Quality Score is calculated only at the keyword level. Third-party tools may provide ad group or campaign level quality scores by aggregating the keyword quality scores, but in Google Ads, the only way to find quality score is at the keyword level.
To find quality score in Google Ads, navigate to your keywords, and go to Modify Columns. From there, select these columns:
- Quality Score
- Exp. CTR
- Ad relevance
- Landing Page exp.
You can also add columns to view historical Quality Score, which allows you to see changes in Quality Score and the other columns over time. To do this, select those columns, then segment by day.
How to Improve Quality Score
For any optimization, the first step is to find the area of greatest impact and start there. To fix a low Quality Score and also affect your cost per click, here’s one way to do that:
- Identify the keywords that you get the most clicks from.
- Of those top volume keywords, identify the ones with the highest cost per click.
- Of those most expensive keywords, find the ones with the lowest quality scores, and get to work on improving them.
1. Optimize Your Ad Group Structure
Both landing pages and ad copy are determined at the ad group level. I’m always a fan of having as streamlined a structure as possible and not setting up more campaigns or ad groups than you need. But, there are valid reasons to divide out keywords into more segmented ad groups, and Quality Score is one of those reasons.
First, consider your ad copy. Having your ad copy be relevant and reflective of your keywords and search terms is a key component of a high Quality Score. However, there’s only so much space available for ad copy, and you may find that you can’t squeeze in all the keywords in your ad group into just one search ad. Instead, you can break up your ad groups into more specific keyword themes and increase the occurrence of your keywords and search terms in your ads.
For example, maybe you’ve got an ad group that contains the keywords “productivity software” and “productivity tool.” These keywords are very similar in intent and theme, but perhaps separating them into two ad groups would allow your ads to more directly relate to those individual keywords.
The same concept applies for landing pages. Because you want your landing page to reflect the keywords you’re bidding on and also the ad copy, you may find that having more specific keywords in a larger number of ad groups allows you to use more highly specific landing pages that speak to the exact search term the user is looking for information on.
With both ad copy and landing pages, not only would you be improving your Quality Score by restructuring your ad groups, you’re also likely going to see increases in click-through rate and conversion rate along the way as the user starts to see their intent repeated right back to them by your ad and website. By doing that, you’re building trust and relevancy with the user. Once again, we see that what’s good for quality score benefits both the user and the advertiser.
2. Bid on the Right Keywords
This might seem like either the most obvious or off-the-wall Quality Score recommendation you’ve heard, but it’s worth saying because of the nature of search in 2023. Because phrase match, and even exact match, function more like broad match these days, your keywords may mean that your ads show for a very, well, broad and potentially irrelevant set of search terms.
How does that impact Quality Score? Google is looking not just at the keywords you bid on for ad and landing page relevance, but also at the search terms you show up for. Google wants to see your ad and landing page content matching the intent of the user’s actual search, not just the keyword you target.
For many reasons, including for achieving strong Quality Scores, make sure that search term reviews are a frequent and in-depth part of your optimization strategy. By adding negative keywords, editing match types or even pausing keywords that don’t bring in the right intent, you’ll ensure that your search term intent closely aligns with your keywords. With that alignment in place, you’ll find better Quality Scores and also more relevant traffic coming to your site via Google Ads.
3. Use Your Keywords and Search Terms in Ad Copy
Piggybacking on the point above, you should include not just your keywords but also your search terms in your ad’s headlines and descriptions. With ad relevance being one of the components of Quality Score, the old guidance was to make sure your keywords appear in your ad copy. But the evolution of match types means that the keywords you select to target, even when they’re exact match, trigger your ad for a much broader set of search terms in the actual auction itself. Google’s guidance on improving ad relevance has evolved along with match type definitions.
Google encourages advertisers to base ad relevance on intent, not just the literal keywords you’re bidding on. To do this, pull the search terms for a certain keyword over a 30-day period by going to your keyword list and checking the box next to your keyword. When you check that box, a new blue box will appear and you can select “Search terms”. This will give you a list of search terms that triggered your ad. Now, when you go to optimize your ad relevance, you can make sure that the most common search terms are included in your headlines and descriptions alongside the keywords themselves.
4. Remember that Landing Page Experience is More Than Just Content
The reason why Google lists “landing page experience” as a Quality Score factor instead of “landing page relevance” is because this component is so much more than just the words on the page. Going back to the idea that Google wants to ensure a great experience for both users and advertisers through Google Ads, a slow or non-mobile friendly site will frustrate a user who clicked on your ad, and as a result they’ll be less likely to convert. No one wins.
For any site visitor, but especially ones that you’re paying per click for, your main goal should be to:
- Let the user know clearly what action you want them to take on your site
- Take away all friction and distraction from that action. Chances are, if you’re not seeing conversions from your landing page, your landing page experience scores are also rated below average.
There are 2 areas outside of on-page content that you should focus on when it comes to your landing pages:
- Page speed: Your site should load quickly, and you can use this tool to test it.
- Mobile friendliness: Your landing page should be easy to view and navigate on a mobile device. This tool gives you an analysis of your page’s mobile friendliness.
Not only will you improve your Quality Score, you’ll also see a lot more ROI from your ads if you can fix any of the issues above. If your landing page isn’t converting users on your site, that may be a sign that one of the above is causing friction for the user.
5. Coordinate Your Ad Copy and Landing Page Content
My mom always told me the key to dressing well was not matching but coordinating. The same goes for ad copy and landing pages. You don’t need to robotically repeat the exact same phrasing on both, but Google does look for consistency in messaging across ad copy and landing page copy. Having these 2 components reflect and complement one another will not only improve your Quality Score, but it will also create a sense of credibility for your brand while also reinforcing your brand messaging.
Think about some of the best branding you know of – Nike, Coca-Cola, etc. Part of the reason those brands are so recognizable to you is because the marketing is consistent. If your search ad focuses on a promotion, such as 20% off for first-time customers, then your landing page should clearly present that same promotion. Otherwise, the user will bounce back to the search result thinking where did that offer go?
Knowing your brand’s greatest value propositions and making those extremely clear in both your ad copy and your landing page, those value propositions will be more likely to stick with the user and become synonymous with your brand. Don’t try to be everything to everybody – know why customers buy from you and let your messaging focus on that unique value proposition.
6. Improve Click-Through Rate with Compelling Ad Copy
Expected click-through rate (CTR) is one of the components of Quality Score, and increasing your CTR is good for not just quality score, but generally driving more traffic to your site from Google Ads. CTR is all about having compelling ad copy that engages your target audience and convinces them to click on your ad.
What makes ad copy compelling?
- Clear language. Text ads are short, meaning you have a very small number of characters to send users your most important message. Don’t let it get weighed down with hard to understand or jargon-riddled language.
- It stands out. Go to the Ad Preview Tool and look at the SERP for your keywords. What stands out to you? Are competitors using the word “free” or putting pricing or discount information in their ad copy? Those are eye-catching tactics that you could use in your ad copy as well.
- Use all of the available assets (think sitelinks, callouts, structured snippets, location and call extensions). Not only do assets help you own more real estate on the SERP, it gives you more opportunities to show the user exactly why they should click on your ad.
- Always have a CTA. Tell users what you want them to do! Make it clear how they can act on your messaging, and make it that much easier for the user to convert.
When it comes to ad copy, especially improving CTR, the only way to know what your audience will respond to is to test! As a rule of thumb, only test one thing at a time so that you can learn what’s working or not working. Always have some sort of test running to ensure you’re always learning.
While Quality Score has been around for a long time, it’s important to stay on top of the most updated guidance for optimizing your accounts. As long as Google Ads is evolving, so too should your approach to campaign management. That said, one thing about Quality Score remains true over 20 years later: Both users and advertisers benefit from high quality ads. Seeing Quality Score through this lens will enable you to use it as a valuable diagnostic tool to improve performance throughout your account, as well as your bottom line.
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